PARIS — Was Hurricane Sandy caused by climate change?
This was the contention Tuesday of Andrew Cuomo, governor of New York state, which bore the brunt of the superstorm.
“Anyone who thinks there isn’t a change in weather patterns is denying reality,” he said.
Many climate scientists would agree with Cuomo when it comes to identifying the cause of the record-breaking droughts and floods of recent years.
But when it comes to tropical storms, the experts also say they cannot give a black-or-white answer for one of the most complex issues in meteorology.
Tropical storms are fuelled by warm seas, so intuition says that as ocean temperatures rise, hurricanes — known as typhoons in Asia — should become more frequent and more brutal.
But a clear rise in Earth’s surface temperature since the 1970s has so far failed to engender a similar increase in tropical cyclone numbers, which have remained stable at about 90 per year.
In the Atlantic alone, however, the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says major storms have become more frequent and intense since 1995.
The agency also warns that science right now cannot tease out how much of the change should be attributed to natural climate variability, and how much to man-made warming.
As for the future, experts give conflicting or sketchy predictions of what could happen this century, when surface temperatures are predicted to warm two or three degrees Celsius (3.5 to five degrees Fahrenheit).
“There is some evidence to suggest that with climate change we might see stronger wind speeds but that the overall number of tropical cyclones (will show) no change or maybe even go down a little bit,” said Tom Mitchell, head of climate change at Britain’s Overseas Development Institute.
Serge Planton, head of climate research at French weather forecasting service Meteo France, explained why the picture is so fuzzy.
“It’s a very complex phenomenon,” he said.
“A cyclone depends not only on the sea surface temperature, but also on the structure of the winds at every layer of the atmosphere. This means it does not respond in a simple, linear fashion to climate change.”
When it comes to storm surge, there seems to be more scientific consensus that climate change’s impact is clear.
Sandy’s swells were entirely consistent with scenarios sketched by the UN’s Intergovernment Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in a report on extreme weather events, published in March, contended Mitchell.
“What the IPCC said there is with sea level rising a little bit already and with the potential for stronger storms, we are likelier to see surges increasing.”
Mitchell was a coordinating lead author in the report.
“At some level, we can point to the climate change signal in that,” he said.
“The examples that we are seeing in New York today of very considerable storm surges are directly in line with the predictions of the IPCC.”
The IPCC report had said it was also likely that tropical cyclones will increase rainfall this century, and placed a heavy emphasis on preparedness to reduce the risk to lives and property.
Republicans are treating voters like ‘children’ with their defense of Trump: Ex-presidential adviser
On Thursday's edition of CNN's "Anderson Cooper 360," former presidential adviser David Gergen laid into Republican lawmakers for claiming that the impeachment probe is only based on "hearsay."
"The Republicans are treating us like idiots," said Gergen. "They just — they say you're only bringing forth hearsay. You don't have any firsthand information. We know there are three people who know exactly what happened. One is named [Rudy] Giuliani. One is chief of staff [Mick] Mulvaney and the third is [John] Bolton. And what's happened here? They all three have been called. The president said no, you must not talk. So the Republicans then come up and say, well, you only have hearsay."
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Jurors deciding the fate of longtime Donald Trump political advisor Roger Stone did not reach a verdict during their deliberations on Thursday and will reconvene on Friday morning.
But there were fascinating details from the courtroom revealed by NBC News correspondent Ken Dilanian.
"What about Roger Stone, does he look like he’s about to burn here?" MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews asked. "Does he look like he’s going down?"
"He does," Dilanian replied.
"And also, physically, he doesn't look well at this trial. He’s walking around the courthouse kind of unaccompanied, shambling around," he continued. "He doesn't look like a happy warrior, which is usually his persona."
GOP lawmaker smacked down after suggesting impeachment is only for capital crimes
On Thursday's edition of MSNBC's "All In," Rep. Tom Reed (R-NY) tried to argue that impeachment is only intended for when presidents commit capital crimes — and was immediately corrected by anchor Chris Hayes.
"I saw an earlier interview you gave to Chuck Todd where you didn’t think this was, so far, from what you’ve heard of, the level of impeachable behavior," said Hayes. "I’m curious what you view the standard as the Constitution sets out for you as being high crimes and treason and misdemeanor."
"Crimes that are subject to the penalty of death is essentially what the Constitution is to me indicating with impeachment," said Reed. "And this whole claim of bribery, the American people aren’t stupid, Chris. This is not going to sustain the review of the American people, and they’re the ultimate ones who are going to judge this because I don’t see this becoming an impeachable subject to the removal of the president."